DisneyToon Studios/Walt Disney Home Entertainment (December 13 2005), single disc, 75 mins plus supplements, 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS Surround, Rated G, Retail: $29.99
Set five years after the events of Kuzco’s original Emperor’s New Groove, we find villainess-of-the-original Yzma’s henchman, the-couple-of-reels-short-of-a-final-cut Kronk, heading up Mudka’s Meat Hut, the restaurant that featured in the farcical “dinner sequence” in the original film. As this new story begins, it seems Kronk’s Dad is about to pay his boy a visit, expecting to find his son successfully set up with home, family and top flight job.
Of course, that’s a far cry from the Kronk we find here: covered in cheese from an exploding pizza he was about to serve up, and, while not under the employ of a scheming witch any longer, he’s still not a self-made man and prefers helping out his friends than taking the lead. This looks like it could change when Yzma, still somewhat under the spell that saw her reduced to a tiny moggy at the end of the original, slithers back into Kronk’s life and attempts to make a wacky comeback by using her old henchman to fool the locals into investing in her (very suspect) youth potion. Naturally, Kronk’s good side prevails, and Yzma is chased off into the sewers (no doubt to make another comeback in the upcoming TV spin off).
Moving on to Camp Chippamunka (cue more of Kronk’s unique squirrel language antics), the big guy comes up against Ms Birdwell’s team of Junior Chipmunks, and finds that his thus untapped need to impress unleashes a competitive animal that strives too hard to push his team, leading to trouble that sees Kronk in hot water with Ms Birdwell. Finally, the day for Papi’s visit arrives, and while Kronk’s reflections have led him to feel he’s been a failure, his friends band together to prove that he’s a success in many other ways. The story threads all come to a neat resolve, and perhaps predictably, Kronk ends up as the cat that ate the cream (while Yzma, presumably, just remains a cat)!
The Sweatbox Review:
Although it was plagued by production difficulties, including a complete 180 degree turn in story and tone, Disney’s 2000 offering The Emperor’s New Groove averted disaster by going from being an epic, Prince And The Pauper styled drama to becoming a broad, crowd-pleasing comedy that came out of left field to surprise audiences – and the Mouse House – alike! Back then, the whole Direct-To-Video machine wasn’t gearing up with as much speed as has been seen recently, though early attempts to cash in on projected cash cows saw sequels to Atlantis: The Lost Empire and Treasure Planet either rushed to completion or canned altogether when those movies under-performed at the box office.
So it isn’t until five years later, following an outrageously successful showing on home video where the film has become a bit of a cult hit even among non-animation fans, that we have finally been rewarded the wait with not only this new feature, but a fully fledged television series, The Emperor’s New School, to boot. And all this from a movie Disney was so sure was going to flop that they pretty much dumped it in theaters without much fanfare or imaginative marketing campaign.
Kudos must go, of course, to director Mark Dindal, who recently helmed Disney’s transfer from their historically hand-drawn traditions to Pixar-type computer graphics comedy with Chicken Little, who turned the fortunes of the ill-fated original Kingdom In The Sun project around and had fun with the story’s characters and setting, creating a minor Disney classic along the way. The Emperor’s New Groove seemed to play with the conventions of filmmaking (either intentional or as part of the clever cover up attempt) while also conveying a proper story arc that involved the audience. The result was a breath of fresh comic air that felt more like the freewheeling knockabout Warner Brothers shorts of the 1940s and 50s rather than a “grown up” Disney feature, even in the Aladdin or Hercules mould, and all the more better for it!
Playing with the way narrative works when used, and very much keeping things in tone with the first flick, we are given a quick update on Kronk’s adventures since we last saw him, helped by a hip and happening intro song that reflects the original’s Perfect World number (here, the Tom Jones MC has been updated with an equally soul-blessed sister singer). The first half of the film plays out well, with a wonderful boost given by the always-hysterical Yzma, returning to scam Kronk and his friends, again played with tongue fully in cheek by Eartha Kitt. Once she’s been “disposed of” – almost quite literally – the movie moves into a slower mode for its second half, and while the scriptwriters inevitably find a love interest for Kronk, the shift feels a little more disjointed to the overall drive of the movie.
Ultimately, and while the original film was a slice of sheer fun that, especially with its up-tempo score, recalled the knockabout fun of a Dumbo or a Jungle Book, I’m not sure anyone was really clambering for any kind of sequel. However, as derivative as Kronk’s New Groove turns out to be, it isn’t the mess it could have been either, and at least broke free of the “mid-quel” territory that has plagued so many of these Disney offshoots. In fact, and taken on its own merits, Kronk’s New Groove is pretty fun stuff in itself, with some nice self-references to the original that helps this feel like a proper sequel as opposed to some TV-spin off.
Not all the gags work…Kuzco hardly makes an appearance, and Pacha only turns up in the bookends, leaving Kronk front and center for the most part, aided by Yzma in the first half and Ms Birdwell in the second. The overall “threat” of having his father turning up to inspect what Kronk has made of his life doesn’t really set up as much of central drive for events to transpire, something that the movie stumbles on in its episodic nature. Kronk himself, while a great support, and arguably the breakout character of the original film, is a one-note joke, and though Patrick Warburton enthuses him with as much eagerness as first time out, I’m not sure that an entire movie resting on Kronk’s broad shoulders was the best way to explore the material assembled here.
Not that Kronk’s New Groove feels like a cheap addition to Disney’s DTV stable. The other voices – most notably Kitt’s returning Yzma and newcomers Tracey Ullman (as Birdwell) and Frasier’s John Mahoney, as Kronk Sr, put in good work and make the most out of the often very amusing script, while long time Winnie The Pooh voice contributor John Fiedler will jump out to Piglet fans in what was probably among the last lines of dialogue he recorded for a Disney project. The elements all work in Kronk’s New Groove’s favor, and while it may not rack up the audience adoration the original film has over this past half-decade, it’s sure to please those who count themselves as rabid New Groove fans.
The animation is of the crisp DTV variety that’s streets ahead of the “black marker” approach to old-school Mouse House TV cartooning so disappointing in such titles as Hunchback II and Pocahontas II. The songs are also cool, the jokes are good, and I found several moments in there that really made me laugh out loud, making the film an unexpected delight, given the strangely non-giveaway trailer that appeared relentlessly on recent Disney DVD titles, with some truly memorable sequences that really have no place in what some might still see as a cheap knock-off sequel.
But while it’s no classic, Kronk’s New Groove provides an original enough follow-up story (as opposed to a re-hashed transformation tale), even if it relies heavily on the tone and conventions of the earlier film. This could be a good thing, however, and just as that film brought about a more “relaxed” structure to Disney animated features, so could this one do the same for the DTV line. It offers a healthy 75 minutes of family fun, with a slight edge that’s been missing from Disney recently that sees some surprisingly “adult” laughs thrown in (don’t worry, there’s nothing that jeopardizes the G rating here) in the form of movie references, Disney digs and random, truly funny humor that will guarantee a fun time is had by all ages.
Is This Thing Loaded?
Kicking off with the usual Disney Sneak Peeks, we’re treated this time around to the Lady And The Tramp promo, a Disney Channel Movie Surfers look at The Wild and an upcoming The Shaggy Dog remake, and another mid-quel, the actually none-too bad looking Bambi II. Accessible via a dedicated menu are further previews for the underrated Mouse House pickup Valiant, and more DTVs: Pooh’s Grand Adventure, another Lilo And Stitch effort, the out-of-left-field and equally unnecessary Fox And The Hound II (another mid-quel), and the aforementioned New Groove TV spin off, The Emperor’s New School, which seems to show another step up in television animation quality. The “Fast Play” option plays these all through while converting your interactive disc to a babysitting-friendly VHS-styled play through.
Getting through the Games And Activities “filler” first, and Kronk’s Brain Game is a pretty simple (in conceit and execution) collection of tasks that has the player helping Kronk arrange to welcome his Papi in style, while the Pyramid Scheme game is perhaps most notable for introducing JP Manoux as the new TV voice of Kuzco, here narrating a question and answer diversion that draws on the movie and its (fairly redundant here) Incan settings. The design, especially the apparent sponsors’ names, may raise a smile or two, but after recently seeing the way kids react to their X-Boxes and PlayStations, one has to wonder if these slow, set top games get much airing. When it comes to any DVD-ROM additions, there’s unfortunately no groove here on this disc.
One of my favourite bonuses on any Disney DTV was the informative and worthwhile commentary found on the Lady And The Tramp II disc. While there’s no such track here, we do meet co-directors Saul Blinkoff and Elliot Bour in a detailed – if brief – “making of”, the Backstage Disney How To Cook A Movie featurette, which runs almost eight minutes.
Joined by Patrick Warburton, the three explain which ingredients are crucial in putting a movie like Kronk’s New Groove together (featuring always welcome footage of the actors in the voice booths), making a fine addition to a line that has often seen fluff-only extras, and highlighting in an amusing and informative fashion the process from storyboards to final mixing.
A traditional white Disney keepcase holds the disc and a chapter insert, while initial pressings of the disc add a cardboard slipcase that replicates the cover art with a slightly embossed raised treatment for the main title on the front. There are none of the usual money off coupons to be found inside.
Ink And Paint:
A brand spanking new flick from 2005, making its digital debut on DVD? How the heck could this thing look anything other than perfect? Presented in a native 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, Kronk’s New Groove is crisp and clean, and shows off the fine-lined animation and vibrant coloring with panache.
Being a fairly dialogue heavy joke-fest, the mix here is predictably front-centric, and doesn’t offer the cinematic-type mixes that some recent DTV offerings have served up. That said, the 5.1 tracks we’re given – in Dolby or DTS flavors – provide a more than adequate soundfield, with some nice spreading of the music score and a smattering of directional effects that add some fun and zip to the soundtrack. If anything, the DTS provides a little more kick, but it’s a close call between the two choices. Dolby tracks are also offered in French and Spanish, with additional English subtitles.
While one could easily argue that Kronk’s New Groove only adds to the long list of uncalled for franchise continuations to Disney’s theatrical hits, this is one that even naysayers may want to make an exception for. As always, the price point is a little inflated for the amount of material on the disc, but the high quality of the animation, coupled with the total reunion of the original voice cast (however small some of their roles may be) provides a fitting second outing for these characters. Taking into account the original’s freewheeling style certainly helps one over the initial reaction to perhaps roll the eyes at yet another DTV effort, though this one is likely to be looked on fondly by those who got so much out of the original flick and found Kronk to be their favorite character. The episodic nature stops it short of being a truly worthy follow-up, but at least it steers well clear of repetition (in story if not style) and just about stands up on its own. For those still unsure, Kronk’s New Groove is certainly worth a rental for sure, while fans are recommended to take the plunge and pick this one up!
Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?